Make Prices Reward "Green" Choices by The Geonomists
Matriots, target the most sensitive body part—the wallet. Make prices tell the truth. Earth as object of speculation? Not with geonomics.
Let’s target the most sensitive part of the body—the pocketbook. Saving money—both public funds and private cash—is always a happy happenstance.
Now the bottom line rewards wrong choices. Prices for grey ways are lower than for green ways. That’s not because green ways are less efficient but because grey ways enjoy more political clout.
A UN study found no industrial sector, as now constituted, could turn a profit if it had to compensate society for the harm it causes, particularly to the climate.
Big problems need big solutions. Geonomic policy entails:
Subsidies for polluters and depleters—ended.
Taxes on efforts—replaced. Instead, make polluters and depleters pay.
Dividends to the citizenry—an eco-bonus, a Citizen’s Dividend, an extra income drawn from the socially generated value of land and resources.
Dues for use of Earth—charged to landowners.
People would pay for what they take (some land, natural resource, some atmosphere), not what they make (a home, a business). Extractors take fewer resources and developers cover less land. Owners in-fill cities and upgrade their buildings.
Receiving extra income, some people choose time over money. They commute less and consume less. The dividend reaffirms everyone’s worthiness, magnetizing individuals into a movement that grows and wins.
Mobilizers can organize at any level of government, from local to federal. Working locally to shift the property tax from buildings to locations, proponents can interact personally and win faster than the time it takes to win nationally. Winning efficient use of metro land is a huge boon to climate.
Adopting geonomics is not only something we can do. It is something we must do. No longer can we let Earth remain an object of speculation. Matriots, lovers of the Mother, answer the call; win the world we all want.
What actions do you propose?
Climate has a friend in real costs. How so? To inspire people, offer them a deal they can’t refuse. To mobilize individuals and society, show them how to save money. To change perspectives and behaviors, make prices tell the truth. Precise pricing makes “green” goods and services affordable.
Stop rewarding everybody for their business-as-usual behaviors. Instead, target the most sensitive part of the body—the pocketbook. Saving money—both public funds and private cash—is always a happy happenstance. The benefit is clear, immediate, and personal.
Because people feel a strong attachment to their values and worldview, the strategy of political aikido appeals. With a well-placed hip, redirect society’s momentum, toward being good stewards of the planet. That well-placed hip? Savings. The throw? A movement to transform public revenue policy.
Shift taxes from goods to bads and subsidies from special interests to the general populace; that’s geonomic policy. Its centerpiece is an eco-bonus, a Citizen’s Dividend, an extra income drawn from the socially generated value of land and resources. Some precursors are the dividends paid to residents of Alaska, Aspen CO, and Singapore.
Both producers and consumers would behave better. Knowingly or not, they’d cut throughput. (a) Having to pay to use Earth, extractors take fewer resources and developers cover less land. (b) Receiving extra income, some would choose time over money and consume less. Everyone would feel greater self-worth. Such people behave more responsibly.
Bias Bashes Price
Most people do not want to pollute or do not know they are polluting. But the bottom line rewards wrong choices. Prices for grey ways are lower than for green ways. That’s not because green ways are less efficient but because grey ways enjoy more political clout.
Industrialists and their descendants have a long history of winning corporate welfare and tax breaks. Those fiscal favors hugely tip the playing field away from products and services that don’t pollute, toward those that do. A UN study found no industrial sector, as now constituted, could turn a profit if it had to compensate society for the harm it causes, particularly to the climate.
All breadths of government play favorites. Foremost, governments don’t enforce standards for worker, consumer, or nature. Rather, they do things like allow waste incineration plants.
Recall, cash is king and consider subsides. Governments throw money at insiders who ignore our right to a healthy world. Governments:
* give water way below market prices to chemical/mechanical agri-business, thereby suppressing low-energy organic farming.
* carve out logging roads thereby making wood, a poor insulator, cheaper and the material of choice for homes instead of, say, block which is more common in efficient Germany.
The list gets much longer.
Besides handouts from politicians from the general fund, there are taxes and tax breaks that businesses demand and get. The depreciation allowance goes to oil, not sunlight. Agri states exempt chemicals sold to farmers, not compost sold to gardeners. Thus subsidies make grey ways cheap and profitable as taxes make "green" ways needlessly costly.
Second Degree Burns
Unintended consequences also do harm. Locally, the tax on property, by taxing buildings discourages owners from making improvements, including those that would save energy. By falling lightly on land, it allows owners to speculate and keep lots vacant, forcing development to sprawl out and residents to use more energy.
Federally, income taxes spare capital-intensive industries (employing more machines) but burden labor-intensive industries (employing more human beings). As it happens, the former pollute more than the latter. Fossil fuels vis-a-vis photovoltaics, agri-business vs. organic gardening, mining vs. recycling, logging vs. reforestation, etc.
This is not a paean to hard work. More a plea to evolve beyond having governments be handmaidens to business. If we’re to have governments, it should not be to dish out privileges but to enforce the rights of all.
Benefits of Geonomizing
All four geonomic shifts benefit the global ecosystem.
Subsidies for polluters and depleters—ended. An instance: ”Belgium, France, Japan, Spain, and the United Kingdom have collectively halved coal use since slashing or ending supports over the last fifteen years." From WorldWatch.
Taxes on efforts—replaced. Instead, make polluters and depleters pay. They’ll clean up their act or go out of business. Non-polluters will expand market share. “In 2000, Norway levied a tax on sales of the chlorinated solvents trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene. Users reduced their leakage, boosted recycling, and substituted other cleansers. Compared with average consumption in the three years 1997-99, trichloroethylene sales fell 83%, perchloroethylene sales fell 89%. National consumption of all chemicals classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, or reprotoxic fell by 60%.”
Dividends to the citizenry—paid from society’s spending for nature. Singapore, known for restraining “autocracy” (literally), low taxes, and high prosperity, also recovers much land value and pays a dividend. Individually, getting a share of the worth of Earth—which depends on the health of Earth—provides people with a bottom-line motive to advance the health of Earth. Some people will choose time over money. That reduces "rush" hour, an exceedingly polluting event. It's not our footprint so much as our tire-track that's altering life on earth. People who commute less and consume less benefit the environment twice over.
Dues for use of Earth—charged to landowners. Having to pay a tax, fee, lease, or dues, etc, owners quit speculating and keeping lots vacant or allowing buildings to dilapidate. Instead, they develop their parcels and upgrade their buildings.
*In Australia, some towns taxed land, not buildings, and averaged 50% more built value per acre than the neighboring towns that taxed buildings and sites at an equal rate. One improvement that owners in such towns make is better insulation, cutting demand for energy.
*In America in the 1980s, Pittsburgh renewed downtown without one penny of subsidy by shifting its property tax landward. It was twice name "America's Most Livable City" by Rand-McNally. In-filling cities shortens trip distances, cutting the burning of fuel and the emission of byproducts. In denser cities, residents use more mass transit.
Geonomics is appealingly rational, a quid quo pro. We’d shift taxes off earnings, purchases, and buildings, onto pollution, extraction, and locations. People would pay for what they take (some land, natural resource, some atmosphere), not what they make (a home, a business). Having to pay for what one takes, one takes less and uses it economically.
Every aspect of the reform is measurable. The money citizens no longer lose to taxes. The money government no longer wastes on insiders. How much are resources spared. How much recycling increases. How much byproducts fall. How efficiently land is used. How much less heat buildings leak. How much the workweek shrinks. There’re many other metrics.
Victory in Our Time
Big problems need big solutions. Transforming the human economy to spare the natural world is a big job. Yet geonomics is up to the task.
Every aspect of this overarching policy is in practice in some jurisdiction somewhere. See the examples above. To the degree tried, it has always worked to make economies more efficient.
Being fresh and familiar, geonomics is feasible. There are groups trying to axe bad taxes (Taxpayers for Common Sense) and others trying to abolish bad subsidies, such as the Green Scissors Coalition (Friends of the Earth, et al). A growing movement calls for a Basic Income Grant, which is a cousin of a Citizen’s Dividend (the former could be funded from anything, the latter only from surplus “rents”). New York magazine and an expanding chorus calls for a tax on land. The Citizen’s Dividend could be the broad banner that rallies these disparate elements into a unified movement for an eco-friendly economy.
What’s special about the proposed Citizen’s Dividend is that, rather than focus on how bad business has been, it reaffirms how worthy everyone is. Telling one how deserving they are of a fair share of the economy’s surplus bolsters self-esteem—and feels good. Affirmation goes a long to magnetizing individuals into a movement that grows and wins.
The very concept of a Citizen’s Dividend helps build community, and community is the crucible of morality. The root meaning of “community” is “share with” (“with share”, actually). Sharing an economy’s surplus binds people into one identity. Even before the reform is won, envisioning the sharing helps people feel like they belong to a group. With the surplus being rents—the worth of Earth—that helps people feel a belonging to their ecosystem. Belonging changes how people treat Earth.
The initial call to action would be written. The writings would appear in every print medium, primarily social media. The authors and early responders would coalesce into the core group and draw in friends. Soon there’d be enough people on board in one locale to be able to meet face-to-face. That creates a different energy that spawns new groups in other locales via friends, family, fellow students, co-workers, and neighbors.
Those who answer the initial call would be self-selecting and likely come from all walks of life. Judging by those who have endorsed geonomic ideas in the past, a couple groups might be more heavily represented—environmentalists and libertarians. Such a coalition, spanning the entire political spectrum, would have to be reckoned with.
Fundraising can’t be neglected. Making a movement entails a cost, albeit a minimal one. Then, once geonomic policy is adopted, the costs imposed by counterproductive taxes and wasteful subsidies are ended, resulting in pure savings. Enjoying life in a shrunken workweek cuts medical costs. The list of savings adds up.
Mobilizers can organize anywhere and address the tax-and-spend policies of any breadth (not level) of government, from local to federal. Working locally to shift the property tax from buildings to locations, proponents can interact personally and win faster than the time it takes to win nationally. Winning efficient use of metro regions is a huge boon to climate.
The most important thing that people need in order to change themselves and their society is a group to join. Participants would feel a sense of civic duty—write letters, staff booths at farmers’ markets, interview and be interviewed in all media, organize fundraiser dinners and concerts, and last but not least: lobby elected officials. And groups are most powerful if they play as much as work.
Once the Citizen’s Dividend is won and people take time off, eventually they’d stumble into engaging more with friends, family, neighbors, culture, and nature. They’d make discoveries that’d raise their awareness and likely alter other aspects of their lifestyle, such as diet, exercise, and redefining what’s fun. Singing could come back into fashion. That’s good for the atmosphere, human voices lifting up melodies.
We would no longer serve the economy, it would serve us. Why else have an economy if not to take care of us? Geonomic reform would spell the end of econo-man, the rebirth of carefree humans.
Adopting geonomics is not only something we can do. It is something we must do. No longer can we let Earth remain an object of speculation. Matriots, lovers of the Mother, answer the call; win the world we all want.
Who will take these actions?
Elected bodies, ultimately, must reform the flow of public revenue. Elected officials must hear from a critical mass of voters. And voters must hear from likable, informed, and articulate activists—as is so with any reform movement.
The 5 M’s of Movement Making
- Get clear on your Mission. Craft a Message that resonates with a critical mass. That may take several iterations. Get lots of feedback from friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and fellow students. Funds permitting, employ questionnaires, focus groups, and opinion surveys.
- Grow your Membership. Politicians are not going to stick their necks out for reforms that lack popular support. Politicians count noses. They look for a parade then run to get in front of it. Provide that parade. Newly introduced bills need leaders in legislative bodies.
- Money is the Mother’s Milk of politics. Without it, nobody takes you seriously. And with it, you can afford the needed buttons, bumper stickers, T-shirts, baseball caps, hall rentals, stipends to big-name speakers, salaries for staff, trips to capitols, organizing fundraiser concerts and dinners with celebrities, etc.
- Media replaces reality; e.g., fans at a sporting match don’t watch the action live but on a handheld device. Make videos to go viral, appear in all the media, from social to conventional, in an eye-catching big-splash way. Interview authorities and get interviewed in local and mainstream radio, TV, and printed press. Invite celebrities for quotes and appearances. We’re less society, more mass market.
- All the above Manufactures a Mandate that elected officials can not refuse. Your bill to recover and share the values of land can be won on the local playing field. Hence you can win it more quickly than on the national stage, probably within one or two legislative sessions. How long it takes mainly depends on how quickly you can accomplish the four preceding steps.
- Make Merry. You’ve won. Celebrate util the new dawn arising. Actually, make every meeting part party.
Where will these actions be taken?
To urge listeners to hop on board the bandwagon in order to get bills passed, advocates will raise awareness in every venue:
In all discussions of policy re economics and environment, informal and formal. When talking to friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and fellow students. When composing articles and lists of questions and interviews scripts for videos and speeches. At public gatherings like farmers markets and conferences.
In meetings with other political groups, financial backers both nonprofits and businesses, reporters, celebrities, and politicians, and even in meetings with potential opponents to try to ameliorate their concerns. At social events where movers and shakers meet and relax and listen to the input from advocates. In legislatures of all jurisdictions from local to global. In all venues where information spreads, where ideas spread, where change takes roots.
Fortunately, politics are local. Geonomic policy can be won locally, as happened in Aspen CO. If the reform is both dues and dividends, it will spur efficient land use and individual time use, hugely helping the ecosystem.
Winning locally creates a foundation for revenue reform statewide. There they can win the shift of taxes off sales, onto extraction of resources. Building on statewide success, next they can win the shift of taxes off wages, onto pollution, into the air and water and soil, too, in national legislatures. Ultimately, success at the federal level will lead to success globally. As they say, "Think globally, act locally.”
How will these actions have a high impact in addressing climate change?
Local revenue reform spurs owners to use land and resources efficiently. In urban areas, that means less vacant lots, less abandoned buildings, less sprawl, and more efficient transportation and heating and cooling of buildings. Efficient use reduces the demand for energy and the use of fossil fuels, resulting in fewer atmospheric emissions. In rural areas, it means curbing cattle, selective logging, and less mining thanks to more recycling (we throw away as much metal as we mine each year).
More people can prosper (classical economists explain the margin moves closer to the prime). When people feel materially secure, they’re more willing safeguard the environment. People would no longer have to choose between job or profit on one hand and living on a healthy, stable planet on the other.
Bottom line, human civilization in both city and country quit using land wastefully and leaving behind waste. That goes a long way to reducing our emissions in the atmosphere and byproducts in general.
What are other key benefits?
More efficient use of land and resources reduces the emission of all sorts of pollution. On compact settlement patterns, economies enjoy lower costs and higher output. More people prosper; that, plus the share of land values, closes the income gap. People can afford to enjoy more leisure. People won’t have to sit so much or drive as much. They can take time to walk, pedal, dance, socialize with friends, family, neighbors, creating community. They can give their curiosity free rein. They can enjoy culture and nature. They’ll feel better, drastically cutting social spending on the doctoring industry. All these benefits allow people to evolve from econo-man to fully realized human beings. The human being would no longer serve the economy; the economy would serve humanity. What's not to like?
What are the proposal’s costs?
Outside the usual costs of doing what it takes to raise public awareness, there are no costs but only savings, once the economy becomes vastly more efficient, starting with land use.
Just like other changes to the tax code and to the annual budget, new public policy for gathering and disbursing revenue could be adopted in a few years, depending on the enthusiasm and commitment of proponents. The benefits would appear quickly and substantially. Given the needed public support and awareness, the reforms could last forever.
The carbon tax is an aspect of this "geonomic" revenue reform.
True Cost Economics — We the People Reform Coalition
“Political Aikido-Persuasion, Inspiration, and Strategic Dominance” — Daily Kos, 2011 January 4, by gmoke.
“Depletion and pollution are things we want to discourage, so tax them.” — “Top 10 Policies for a Steady-State Economy” by Herman Daly, ex World Bank economist, now U Maryland prof.
“New UN report finds almost no industry profitable if environmental costs were included” — Exposing the Truth, 2015 April 9, by Michael Thomas
“Cost of Infrastructure to Serve New Residential Development” — 2011 January, by Eben Fodor.
“Urban Sprawl & Energy Consumption” — Demand Media, by David Anderson.
“water is provided by federal and state agencies at prices that taxpayers subsidize.” — “How Growers Gamed California’s Drought” — The Daily Beast, 2015 March 30, by Mark Hertsgaard
‘Meet “Dirty Dozen” Tax Break #9: Timber Subsidies’ — The Century Foundation, 2012 December 22, by Benjamin Landy
“loopholes have meant that nothing has even slowed down the practice of flying congressmen to Brazil in return for a few favors. Now, instead of paying for the trips directly, lobbyists and corporations set up 501(c)(3)s to do the work for them.” — “11 Loopholes the World's Biggest Corporations Use”, 2014 January 13, by Stephano Medina.
“How local property taxes discourage density” — Market Urbanism, 2010 November 30, by Stephen Smith.
Quit subsidizing polluters and depleters. 'King Coal’s Weakening Grip on Power' by Seth Dunn in WorldWatch, 1999 September/October.
Make polluters pay. The Norway experience — Environment Daily, 2003 March 26 via Green Budget Germany
“Property Tax Shift Successes” — Pipalya, by Jeffery J. Smith
Green Scissors — Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and R Street Institute re wasteful and environmentally harmful federal spending.
“There are ways of reducing inequality in America … we could enact a land value tax …” “Hillary Clinton Needs a Plan for Tackling Tax Havens” — New York magazine, 2016 April 5, by Eric Levitz.
The Social Importance of Self-Esteem © 1989, edited by
Andrew M. Mecca, Neil J. Smelser, & John Vasconcellos
Geolibertarians propose the abolition of all income and sales taxes in favor of a single land rental tax. “What Kind of Libertarian Are You?” 2014 December 4, by Tom Head.